The Bitter Pill

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New Jersey loses another child

New Jersey mother with apparent “history of mental illness” who had supposedly been “in and out” of psychiatric inpatient treatment kills daughter

Morris Township mom charged with killing her 4-year-old daughter may have history of mental illness

by Jim Lockwood and Tanya Drobness/The Star-Ledger

Monday August 17, 2009, 7:29 PM

MORRIS TOWNSHIP — Juan Carlos Gonzalez left his Morris Township home early Sunday morning seeking work for his carpentry business. When he returned a few hours later, with no prospects, he expected his two little girls to run outside with their usual greeting.

But they didn’t come.

What he would soon discover was that his wife had strangled their 4-year old daughter Mary and attempted to smother their 6-year-old, Niurka, before slitting her own wrists, authorities said today.

Sarah Simonis/For The Star-Ledger
Police investigate at the home of Jenny Lizette Erazo-Rodriguez, who authorities say killed her 4-year-old daughter.

“I killed my girl. I killed my girl. My baby girl,” his wife, Jenny Lizette Erazo-Rodriguez, told police in Spanish after they were called to her home around 10:15 a.m., according to an affidavit filed in Superior Court in Morristown.

Both children and their 33-year-old mother were taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where Mary Gonzalez was pronounced dead at 11:09 a.m.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said the 4-year-old girl had blunt-force trauma injuries and a cut, but the cause of death preliminarily appears to be strangulation, pending autopsy results. Niurka was treated and released.

“It appears she will make a full recovery,” Bianchi said.

Erazo-Rodriguez is charged with murder and attempted murder, both first-degree crimes, and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Erazo -Rodriguez had “injuries consistent with someone trying to take their life,” Bianchi said.

She was being held in lieu of $1 million bail today, and was transferred to the Ann Klein Forensic Center, a psychiatric hospital in Trenton.

Adela Romero, 46, a neighbor who babysat the girls, said Erazo-Rodriguez suffered from mental illness and had been in and out of a psychiatric hospital over the past year and a half. After her last release, in February, Erazo-Rodriguez was taking medication and seemed “perfectly fine,” Romero said in Spanish.

Romero did not know specifically what type of mental illness Erazo-Rodriguez had, and described the mother as “very kind and calm.”

“She loved her children. She never mistreated them. This was such a surprise,” Romero said.

Andy Germak, executive director of the Morris County Mental Health Association, acknowledged his agency knew Erazo-Rodriguez and her family, but he declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Jennifer Brown/The Star-Ledger
Adela Romero, who babysat Mary and Niurka Gonzalez said their mother, Jenny Erazo-Rodriguez, suffered from mental illness and had been in and out of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in the past year and a half.

Bianchi would not comment on whether Erazo-Rodriguez was diagnosed with a mental illness.

“We have a team of 10 investigators canvassing all sorts of witnesses, neighbors and family, to get a picture of what was going on prior to this,” he said.

According to the affidavit, Niurka told police she awoke Sunday morning to hear her sister screaming in their mother’s bedroom. When Niurka went to see what was wrong, her mother ordered her to go back to her own room, the affidavit states.

Erazo-Rodriguez followed a short while later. As Niurka lay face down on the bed, her mother sat on her back and told her not to breathe. Finally, the child lost consciousness, the affidavit states.

When Gonzalez, who had been doing yardwork after returning home from his job search, entered the house to check on his family, he found Niurka awake but lethargic, and Mary lying unconscious and unresponsive. Slinging his youngest daughter over his shoulder, he took both children out of the house. When police arrived, they found a neighbor, who is a nurse, trying to revive Mary with CPR on the lawn, while another tended to her sister, Bianchi said today.

Romero said Gonzalez is a devoted father who named his carpentry business after his daughters, emblazoning his white van with the words “Niurka & Mary Carpentry.”

He also appeared to be a dedicated husband, visiting his wife every day while she was at Greystone, Romero said.

The family does not have history with the state child welfare agency, the Division of Youth and Family Services, state spokeswoman Kate Bernyk said. Local police also had no prior involvement with the family, Bianchi said.

“The children were very lovely, as was their mother,” Romero said.

Staff writers Susan K. Livio and Carly Rothman contributed to this report.

Previous coverage:

Aug. 17Morris Township mom strangled 4 year old, prosecutor says

Morris Township mother charged with killing 4-year-old daughter

Aug. 16Authorities investigating Morris Township incident

Filed under: murder, psychiatric hospital,

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